7 Countries With Nearly Free College: Where You Can Study Abroad for Close to Free

 August 31, 2021
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With the cost of tuition in the U.S. increasing year after year, you might be interested in earning your degree in another country. After all, there are countries with free college for American students, plus several more with programs that cost next to nothing.

By heading abroad, you can earn your bachelor’s degree — without a side of student loan debt. To learn about free college around the world, specifically schools that offer programs in English, let’s look at the following categories:

Plus:

Note: All currency conversions reflect foreign exchange rates as of Aug. 30, 2021

Countries with free college, no strings attached

Have you ever thought about going to college abroad? Not only can you reap the benefits of free tuition, but you can also travel the world and encounter unique perspectives.

You can find completely free college in Europe if you go to one of the following countries:

Germany

In 2014, Germany stopped charging tuition fees to students, German and international alike. Thanks to its tuition-free policy, many American students study in Germany every year.

Data from the Institute of International Education shows that during the 2018-19 school year, there were more than 12,000 Americans studying abroad in German universities. Americans aren’t the only ones studying in Germany, either. As of the 2018-2019 school year, Germany had more than 393,000 international students attending its universities, according to Studying-in-Germany.org.

Germany is home to several world-class universities, including the prestigious LMU Munich, Heidelberg University and Humboldt University of Berlin. In fact, eight of Germany’s higher education institutions were ranked among the top 100 international universities in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2020.

While you won’t pay tuition attending college in Germany, you will have to cover your cost of living. The average international student in Germany spends about 725 euros (around $850) per month on rent, food and other living expenses. To get a study visa, you’ll need to show you can afford 861 euros per month (around $1,010).

You may also pay what’s called a semester contribution that ranges from 100 to 350 euros ($117 USD to $410), depending on your university. This is not associated with tuition but rather covers costs related to student services, student government and, at some universities, public transportation in the area.

If you’re interested, you can learn more through the German Academic Exchange Service.

Iceland

Iceland does not charge tuition fees for locals or international students who attend public universities. All you’ll pay is a small registration or an administration fee. For example, the University of Iceland charges a registration fee of around $600 per year. While Iceland has seven universities, the University of Iceland is the only one to offer bachelor’s degree programs (some are options for English-speaking students).

Like many other European countries, Iceland is an expensive place to live. Housing costs start around $800 per month. Food will set you back an average of $400 per month or more.

Learn more about attending college in Iceland through the website Study in Iceland.

Norway

Norway’s public universities are tuition-free for international students and local residents. You may have to pay a small semester fee that’s currently less than $100, but otherwise, you won’t spend anything on tuition.

Norway has 22 state colleges and universities, including the University of Oslo, which is ranked No. 131 on the Times Higher Education 2020 world rankings.

Before buying your ticket, though, you should know that Norway has a very high cost of living. The average student budget is more than $1,300 a month. What you save in tuition you may end up spending on food, drinks and other living expenses, if you don’t budget carefully.

You can learn more about opportunities to study in Europe through the website Study in Norway.

Countries with nearly free college

Besides the above countries with free college tuition, there are several other countries with exceptionally low tuition costs:

Austria

To study in Austria, American students pay around $855 each semester. Schools in the country include the University of Vienna, which is ranked No. 134 in the world by Times Higher Education. Some programs at Austrian colleges and universities are in German, but you can find several that are taught entirely in English.

The cost of living in Austria is generally higher than in the United States. In particular, food prices are somewhat higher, as is the cost of manufactured items.

France

France has its fair share of prestigious universities, such as the top-ranked Sorbonne, PSL Research University Paris and Ecole Polytechnique. Many French schools teach programs in English.

France’s public universities have some of the lowest tuition fees, and some schools have waiver programs that bring costs down for international students to costs comparable to those paid by students from countries in the E.U.

You can expect to pay a decent chunk of change to live in France while you study, though. Expenses will vary widely depending on where you live and how you spend your time. For example, while student housing in a smaller city could be relatively affordable, living in a furnished flat in Paris will likely cost quite a bit. The same goes for transportation costs. Dining out can also add up, as you can expect to pay anywhere from around $10 to more than $30 for a restaurant meal.

Luxembourg

The nearly 6,800-student University of Luxembourg, the only public university in the country, charges 400 euros (about $470) for the first two semesters of study and 200 euros (about $235) for every semester thereafter — even for foreign students. It teaches a range of programs in English, French and German. Its student body is very international, with 129 nationalities represented.

At the University of Luxembourg, you’ll find a uniquely multicultural environment. The college even requires undergraduates to spend one semester abroad. If you decide to study there, you would have a double study abroad experience.

As for cost of living, Luxembourg isn’t cheap. You can get a sense of your budget on the university’s website, where you’ll find the going rate for bus tickets and common grocery items. The estimated monthly budget for students is around $1,770.

Spain

Tuition costs for bachelor’s degrees at Spanish public universities average between $176 and $4,115 a year. For international students, fees may be the same, about $1,175 to $1,763 higher or even two or three times higher, according to MastersPortal.com.

While most programs are in Spanish, you can find some English programs at universities like the Autonomous University of Madrid (UAM) and the Global Business School in Barcelona.

Like many other European countries, the cost to live in Spain varies widely depending on where you’re studying and the lifestyle you choose. Big cities like Barcelona and Madrid could hit your wallet a little harder than smaller ones. As far as food goes, the average student can expect to spend nearly $150 a month on meals.

Other options for low-cost tuition

Beyond this list, you can find inexpensive options in a variety of other countries, including Italy, Malaysia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic. To learn more about bachelor’s degree programs all over the world, check out the website Studyportals.

If you’re bilingual, then you have even more options for countries with free college. For instance, if you speak Spanish or Portuguese, then you could study for free — or nearly for free — in Argentina or Brazil, respectively.

Should you study in one of the countries with free college?

While a free college education is a great deal, there are pros and cons to getting your degree abroad.

Pros

  • You’ll likely graduate from college free of student loan debt.
  • You’ll have a unique life experience abroad. Studying in another country is the ultimate way to broaden your horizons far from home.
  • You’ll learn about new cultures and encounter diverse perspectives.
  • You’ll also gain a global perspective, which is valuable in today’s job market. Your time abroad could help your resume stand out to future employers.

Cons

  • You’ll have to do a lot of research about universities and programs to make sure you’re applying to the right one.
  • Besides going through an unfamiliar application process, you’ll likely need to apply for a student visa. In addition to providing details about your study plans, you may have to demonstrate you have enough money in a bank account to cover your living expenses. Check the visa requirements for your destination country.
  • The university you choose may not have the same kind of name recognition to future employers as an American school. Additionally, certain fields may require a domestic degree.
  • Your options for majors may be more limited than they would be in the States.
  • You’ll have to pay for travel expenses to get to and from a different country. Plus, the cost of living may be higher in a big European city than in a college town in the U.S.
  • Living in another country requires major adaptability and independence. Going to college is already a major life transition; having to adjust to a new country on top of everything else may be a lot to handle, especially at the age of 18.

How do you get student loans for colleges abroad?

Before studying outside of the U.S., you should know that other countries have varying rules for student loans that make college more affordable for residents and international students alike. While some countries (like those on this list) offer free tuition for all or low-cost fees for students from abroad, others may charge based on a student’s projected income.

This means that the more you stand to make with your degree, the more you’ll pay to cover your education. A few other countries, such as Australia, Canada and England, collect student loan payments only after borrowers start to earn enough to pay back what they owe.

As an international student, you may not qualify for a country’s national student loan program. But some places offer financing options to foreign students, so it’s worth exploring what’s available to you.

Can you earn your bachelor’s degree abroad?

With the cost of four-year public colleges averaging $20,598 per year and four-year private colleges averaging $44,662 per year in the U.S., according to the National Center for Education Statistics, some students are looking for alternatives. Studying in a country that offers free college can save you from paying back student loan debt down the road, plus allow you to get a world-class education and the chance to travel the world.

If you are interested in this option, do your research, clarify your goals and think about the benefits and challenges of attending free college in another country. Not everyone will enjoy leaving the country for four years. You might prefer to go to college in the U.S. and save up to spend a semester abroad.

You may find yourself with cheap options for college stateside, too, thanks to scholarships and financial aid. Before you decide to go, make sure you qualify for financial aid. While federal grants don’t apply abroad, federal student loans may be valid, giving you an extra boost to making your dreams of an international education come true.

Emily Long contributed to this report.

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